If the narrative of losing hope in a retooled roster and losing games hasn’t been driven home yet, the Milwaukee Bucks are now owners of the second-worst record (2-7) in the NBA, drifting just above the lowly Utah Jazz (1-11) and mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference entering tonight’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the BMO-Harris Center. While the Bucks are riding the league’s longest losing streak, having lost five consecutive games, Portland is on the opposite end of the spectrum, bringing a seven-game winning streak into Milwaukee.
At this point in the season, these two squads could not be more different. The Blazers are 9-2, sitting behind only San Antonio and Indiana in the standings. Meanwhile, Milwaukee is averaging just 90.2 points per game bolstered largely by the hand of a guard, O.J. Mayo, (18.4 ppg), versus Portland’s nightly total of 104.9 per game led by a forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, (22.6 ppg).
That’s why this game is so important for the Bucks. A win would not only stop the bleeding, it would also give the team some much-needed confidence to down an opponent of the Trail Blazers’ stature. History is on the Bucks’ side, as Milwaukee has won the last four times these squads have met. But Portland is rolling, coming off a day of rest after defeating the Brooklyn Nets 108-98 on Monday and aiming to finish a four-game road trip in flawless fashion. When all is said and done, a victory tonight could be a turning point in Milwaukee’s season if the Bucks are to recover and strive for Hammond and Kohl’s coveted eighth seed.
What to Watch For:
- The Ladies Man vs. The Comic Book Kid: While Blazers center Robin Lopez is no offensive juggernaut, he has improved dramatically since his days in Phoenix via a stint in New Orleans. Lopez was a big (pun intended) offseason get for Portland and has an offensive rating (113 points per 100 possessions) that will be challenged by Zaza Pachulia (105 points allowed per 100 possessions). Although Pachulia isn’t a defensive stopper, per say, he and Lopez project to battle to a scoring draw. The more important figure will be decided on the boards. Zaza should be expected to out-rebound Lopez one-on-one, as he is grabbing 16.2 percent of available boards on the season as opposed to the Blazers’ big’s 13.9 total rebound percentage. Aldridge (21.8 defensive rebounding percentage) will figure in prominently to the rebounding game, so John Henson will have to provide support down low if the Bucks are to have a chance to win.
- Speaking of Henson…: The lanky second-year forward has the highest Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48) of any player on his squad. The .136 figure is better than the .100 league average, and well above the numbers attained by the second (Miroslav Raduljica, .088) and third (Ersan Ilyasova, .083) best of Milwaukee’s players. Henson’s abhorrent 27.6 percent free throw shooting is inexcusable, but the rest of his game is progressing nicely as he continues to play valuable minutes, which is reflected in his 57.9 effective field goal percentage (eFG) (17th in the NBA) and his block percentage of 6.0, good for fifth in the league. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s high-flying highlights are certainly the sterling moments of what has been a lackluster season so far, but Henson is playing a large role in actually keeping the Bucks as into games as possible.
- Welcome Back: Both Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) and Caron Butler (shoulder) are expected to return from their respective absences Wednesday, while Brandon Knight remains doubtful with a hamstring injury. For Portland, Meyers Leonard is considered a game-time decision as he continues to deal with a stomach issue. The second-year big man participated in warmups Monday but ultimately decided not to play. The Blazers are also without rookie C.J. McCollum, who broke his foot in training camp and is expected to miss several months.
- Jortland: Simply by changing one letter of the Trail Blazer’s home city, you can use this term for post-victory gloating or to sulk into extended losing streak sadness. Choose wisely.